My bottles were full, computer set up, and tires inflated to 120 psi. The ride would not begin until noon but it was only 10:30. What a keener. I hopped on the laptop, checked my email and confirmed my lack of popularity on Facebook. Damn, 10:38. I then looked up directions to the meeting spot for the third time. When my watch alarm went off, I was busy looking up future road races in the area. Guess I’ll register for the Tour de France when I get back.
Unpacking my bicycle from my dad’s van seemed to also release my confidence. I looked down the parking lot and saw a crowd of chattering chamois. They huddled like children around a campfire, sitting on carbon fibre triangles instead of round wooden logs and fiddled with GPS-enabled computers instead of marshmallows on end of twigs.
One rolled over to me, apparently the leader of the pack; my eyes were fixed on his ride. Thinking back to my days of being a bike-buyer (how I wish I could have those long, unproductive hours on the internet back), I remembered that exact model because its price tag bore one more digit than I was thought was reasonable for a bicycle. The last thing I wanted that day was to cause him, or anyone for that matter to crash. Self-conscious, I shuffled in front of my own bike to hide as many disgraceful details as possible.
“Hi,” the forceful voice of the bike owner introduced himself as Jeff. “Welcome to the group.”
Within minutes, we were ripping down the countryside like, well, a group of road bikers. I pedaled in the back of the pack, to my surprise, without breaking a sweat. The sight beyond my front rubber reminded me of the professional peloton on TV, but being part of it albeit at the back was a feeling beyond the description of surreal.
When we hit the first hill, I just about died. My legs felt like gelatin. My eyes were flooded with a sea of salt. My arms were prepared to surrender to the relentless onslaught. Along the rolling, wooded loop, I seemed to be going only slightly faster than the hill. That is, I appeared to hang in space, as opposed to making forward progress.
The ride would continue.
Often, a hand would materialize from the unified pack and casually point ambiguously to the ground. A second later a large rock or a dead porcupine would emerge. Then, I would get scolded for swerving.
I slowly gained the nerve to approach the rear wheel of the rider in front of me but it felt like a constant game of Chicken. Every time he stopped pedalling, I reacted by squeezing my brakes histrionically. At one point, Jeff dropped back and actually pushed me forward almost until my tire brushed with the next tire. “Stay here,” he commanded.
If I needed a surgeon, I would trust Jeff… so long as my eyes were closed.
Somehow, I made my way to the front. Either because I was stronger than everybody else or because the previous leaders were tired from pulling in the wind, it felt good. Armstrong would be proud. After 80 kilometers of strenuous OCD-type riding, I made it back without a stroke.
“Good job kid, you are ready to race,” Jeff exclaimed.
“One more practice and I should be good.”